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Turtles, Bees and Granola: Our Trip to North Carolina

(post, Lisa Becker Shea)

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It’s amazing how humbling it can be to set foot in another state.  I consider myself a well-educated person, having completed post-graduate work and looking forward to going back to school again one day.  Yet this past week, surrounded by some wonderful people who have lived a different lifestyle,  I realized (again) the narrow scope of my knowledge, enclosed in an urban metropolis and corporate microcosm.  When it comes to snapping turtles and carpenter bees, I’m clueless.  It wasn’t in any textbook of mine, nor in my backyard growing up – nature eludes me.

We flew into Raleigh, North Carolina a week ago, visiting family to bookend a weekend wedding in the quaint beach town of Southport, North Carolina along the Atlantic coast.  J’s cousin and his girlfriend recently moved back to North Carolina (Chapel Hill) after a couple of years in Portland, Oregon, where they often frequented the well-known state and national parks of the West.  Spending days with people so  intimate with the natural world is certainly a learning experience for an extreme urbanite like myself — bribery would involve a lot of s’mores for me to go camping in the woods for even just one night.  Learning things like the benign nature of carpenter bees; the benefits of using a milk and water mixture to kill mold on plants; how tomato plants rely on bees for pollination; changing the ph of soil can predict the color of hydrangeas; and snapping turtles can instinctively find their way back home.  That’s not knowledge you find on Rittenhouse Square on a Friday night in Philadelphia.  And while it may have been covered in high school biology, it’s a faint memory at best.

Chapel Hill’s charm is a clever dichotomy of college-town hip and green stretches of farm land which makes for a picturesque and interesting drive.  We kicked off a lazy Thursday morning with brunch at Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen, a small but apparently well-known drive-thru restaurant in Chapel Hill that serves made-to-order biscuit sandwiches with your choice of meat, egg, cheese or even sprouts and tomatoes.  The biscuit was tender and lightly salted – I instantly wished I knew how to make biscuits at home so I could recreate the meal.  In the afternoon, I ventured into the town of Carrboro where I happened upon the Weaver Street Market, a co-op featuring homegrown produce and environmentally conscious products.  I picked up some Little Red Wagon Granola in Mocha flavor – coffee and chocolate are like peanut butter and jelly to me – absolute genius.  It is perfect for breakfast with some milk.

Around the corner from where we stayed in Chapel Hill is Harry’s Market, a small community center that features local hand-made products and organic produce and food stuffs, even wine.  I purchased a bag of Costa Rican coffee beans from One Planet Coffee with an aroma so enticing I wanted to bite into the environmentally-friendly brown bag.  (Anxious to taste the beans when I returned, I had my first experience with a French coffee press — my 9pm drowsiness was cured!  Definitely need one for work.)  One neighborhood pearl that we did not get a chance to visit is Maple View Farm, an agricultural center and dairy farm with an ice cream store featuring such specials as “Love Potion Shake” and “Double the Love Sundae.”  Next time, I promise.

In Southport, after the parties and nuptials, we headed to the waterfront and enjoyed the scenery along Cape Fear River.  We dined at Provision Company on a ½ pound of shrimp and a couple of crabcakes, and at Fishy Fishy café, on the local Yellowfin tuna wrap and the fried flounder, both featured choices of Brunswick Catch, a local organization committed to providing customers with fresh, local seafood.  (In hindsight, we may not have made the most sustainable choices to help keep these species flourishing and healthy.  Next time, I promise.)

With some new knowledge nuggets in my back packet, it’s hard to imagine settling into my cubicle this week in a center city high raise, let alone waking up before 9am.  But at least I’ll know how to get tomatoes on my plants once they flower, with a new mold remedy to boot.